The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Unilever has signed the first global public-private partnership agreement to fund the livelihoods of local “smallholder” farmers and cultivate food security. The five-year agreement was signed in February 2014 by IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze and Unilever CEO Paul Polman at the close of Small Farmers=Big Businesses, a panel discussion explore the impact private sector investments can have on small-scale farmers. Speakers at the panel included Laksmi Prasvita, Executive Director of PISAgro, an organization that works with more than 53,000 farmers to improve smallholder livelihood and sustainable production in Indonesia; Andrew Rugasira, founder and CEO of Good African Coffee, a Uganda-based social enterprise; Bill Vorley, Principal Researcher in the Sustainable Markets Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED); and Merlin Preza Ramos, director of the PRODECOOP Fair Trade Cooperative in Nicaragua.
The partnership will combine IFAD’s extensive experience working with smallholder farmers and rural enterprises with Unilever’s sustainable agriculture expertise and strategies for integrating farmers into markets. The partnership will focus on raising agricultural productivity, linking farmers and producers to markets, reducing the risks that limit smallholder productivity, and increasing agricultural sustainability. At present, no details about specific projects have been released.
A 2013 United Nations report states that because smallholder farmers produce more than 80 percent of the food consumed by those living in developing countries, supporting them is essential to addressing global poverty and hunger. The World Bank has also found that agricultural investment is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the very poor than investments in other sectors. “It is not enough to focus narrowly on boosting agricultural productivity. Instead, a broader approach that also supports the establishment of viable linkages between rural producers and markets is essential,” Nwanze says.
As part of the Sustainable Living Plan it launched in 2010, Unilever aims to incorporate 500,000 small farmers into its supply chains and to sustainably source 100 percent of the raw agricultural materials it uses by 2020.